Making Reflections on Making Strange

I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first to take an online course. I’d heard horror stories from classmates in high school who’d attempted them. They told me about teachers who never checked their email, obscure assignments with unintelligible directions, and technical problems that made turning in assignments on time a disaster.

I’m very glad I didn’t listen to them, because this class hasn’t been that at all.

Instead, this class has been an incredibly eye-opening experience.

More than anything, this class gave me the tools I need to identify and talk about othering and making the mundane strange. With our lively discussions each week applying the concept to different social issues, I got to see the words and concepts we read about used in actual conversations.

In my English class, when we began discussing postcolonialism and othering, I was completely equipped for the discussion, and came into the theory with such a practical, applicable knowledge.

The ideas I learned in this class I can apply to so many of the classes I’ll be taking from here on out. Even in my final English paper, I talked a lot about stripping away social contexts to make something strange and turn it into something foreign and other- so I can definitely say this class was worth it, and I was right to take it despite my initial trepidation.

I particularly enjoyed our discussions on othering and making strange in art and religion. The art exhibit where the artist created a model and took pictures of it only to destroy the original so only the photos remained is something that will stick with me for a long time.

BUT, I didn’t just enjoy the curriculum!

I think the class we had, students and teachers, was stellar. All the students were actually, earnestly involving themselves and were engaged in the conversation. The same can be said for the teachers, in addition to their being prompt on delivering readings, responding to emails, and being understanding about set backs and problems we might encounter through out our projects. I really appreciated them being so inviting of people asking the class for advice or solutions for problems, and encouraging honesty about set backs in our projects.

I would say, I’ve run blogs on Tumblr and Bloggr before, and there were features on both of those sites that I think made them easier to work in some ways compared to WordPress. (LOOKIN AT YOU PICTURE INSERT FEATURE. YOU ARE NOT EASY TO USE.) But besides that, I had absolutely no complaints with the technology side of this course. None. It honestly went so much more smoothly than I ever imagined.

I don’t have any qualms with the curriculum side of the course, either. It was interesting, it broadened my horizons, and I came out the other side of it feeling like I had the tools to join academic discussions about a whole new subject I knew nothing about when the course started.

BL Manga, Right Here, Right Now: What Does It Say About Modern Culture?

So, over the length of this course, I’ve talked about several things. First, I talked about how feminism seeks to empower women and advocate for equality, while queer theory looks to break down the very ideas of gender and sex, and their roles in society. Next I talked about fujoshi, the women who are happily accepting society’s othering in favor of their own, redefined version of womanhood, which is much more sexually enterprising than femininity has traditionally been. Then, I talked about how BL as a genre is not just othered but does itself other. BL readers other gay men, picking and choosing which parts of the gay experience they wish to consume. In so doing, they push away the real gay experience, because it doesn’t fit their idyllic escapist literature. BL readers also other traditional femininity, except instead of magnifying the positives, they exacerbate the negatives, leaving femininity a weak, whiny label no one wants to take on.

Evidence of a fujoshi’s lack of shame at her interest in homoeroticism. Teague, Justin. Fujoshi Pins, Pack of Four.

So while that’s a brief overview of the BL phenomenon as a whole, that’s where it was as of the last batch of research papers to be published.

BL lives, like the rest of us, in the age of the internet, and is continuously changing as it subsumes media, voraciously consuming itself as an ever-morphing amalgamation of Western and Eastern culture. While scholars can look at the landscape of BL as it was five or ten years ago, when they started their research, where is BL right now, as of May 2017?

That’s a hard question to answer. In some ways, it’s the same as ever: othering gay men and feminine women, critiquing gender roles, and questioning traditional relationship dynamics, all with gratuitous helpings of self-indulgent pornography and sexual taboos. On the other hand, writers and readers of BL have become more and more outspoken against prejudice, with the publishing companies responding accordingly. Most scholarly papers have looked at BL manga from 2010 or earlier, but even in that relatively short time frame, fangirls have become more outspoken in their critiquing of rape culture and the suave alpha male character. They’re asking for discussions about consent and relationship ethics, and wondering why no one has put out a restraining order against the crazy guy who shoots first and asks questions later.

I’d to give some concrete examples of this.

Viewfinder, a long-running juggernaut in the BL manga world, represents everything about rape tropes and sexual objectification that critics of BL have a problem with. However, the ten year old series is no longer the the number one title in BL. Ten Count and Don’t Be Cruel to Me, two other series which are long-running and have swept up various awards, have acquired popularity on par with Viewfinder, and the newer generation they represent is encapsulated in the themes of these two newer works.

The works both represent more realistic relationships, with Don’t Be Cruel to Me seriously addressing rape and homophobia in Japan, and Ten Count addressing the relatively taboo topic of mental health while favoring the development of the characters over their sexual chemistry—though both of these are still highly adult and escapist in nature. Don’t Be Cruel to Me in particular reflects the changing times, as it started out  nonconsensual—as you could probably infer by the risque title— and the characters’ relationship has since changed in response to the popular demands of the BL fandom. Now the couple is earnestly working towards clear communication and trust, and every chapter features a different challenge in their lives they have to overcome, sometimes as an individual, sometimes together.

However, it would be a mistake to look at these two works and decide that BL manga and its readers are suddenly wholesome, problem-free topics. We can’t simply label the BL fandom as wholly reformed, or even on the road to reformation. To say they’ve been shamed into morality and othered into following the rules would not be true at all. Rather, the nature of BL is simply morphing. With every step towards social justice, readers of BL take a step away from shame, meaning that while BL manga itself might not seem so taboo, its

BLu-Ray Cover for Kiss Him, Not Me!, a 2016 anime about a fujoshi. Junko. Watashi ga Motete Dōsunda, Blu-Ray, Volume 1.  2016. Brain’s Base, Crunchyroll.

fans seem more and more bizarre. The fujoshi presence in Japan is strong enough that there have been whole shows aired around the archetype, portraying fans of BL manga as deranged characters with an insatiable lust for homoeroticism, throwing away their social standing and reputation for any glimpse of guy-on-guy action.

So is there othering going on in BL manga? Yes. The fans are othered more than ever, and the genre is too varied to really draw any decisive conclusions about its overall morality. But is the othering going on within a total lack of self awareness when it comes to consuming the other for voyeuristic, sexual gain? That’s where the waters get murky. I would like to suggest that going forward, scholars going forward look more at society’s relationship with fujoshis than the morality of escapist literature. That’s not to say neglect looking at BL itself, but I do feel that fujoshis have been seen as dirty old men peeking at what they shouldn’t by more than enough authors looking to shame and other them. It’s time to look at what’s so shameful about men having sex and women enjoying watching it in the first place.

How Others Other Each Other

Feminism in modern media is all about taking ownership of your vagina and being your own boss: getting the corner office, the boyfriend of your dreams, and an orgasm whenever you need it, wherever you want it. In the early 2000s Sex and The City continually shocked viewers with its frank discussions of safe sex and promiscuity, and the trend continued in the 2010s, with Orange is the New Black showcasing both strong female characters and a portrayal of femininity as downright feral and violent as any man’s world. Mass media opened society’s eyes to the fact that women have a sex drive too, and traditional gender norms watched, horrified and fascinated, as women began taking the initiative in their sex lives, no longer remaining a passive specter of femininity, a contrast to the universally accepted masculine.

Meanwhile, LGBT representation in modern media has also improved over the past decade. While the community is underrepresented, it’s getting more visibility all the time. Before LGBT visibility grew to where it could not be ignored, media catered to the cis-het worldview and shunned gay men and queer identities, othering them by only using them for humor. Now, LGBT content can be serious, though many still complain LGBT characters are included ONLY to be queer, not complex well-rounded individuals whose LGBT status is only a part of their identity.

Now, that’s mainstream Western media. Do we see these ideals also reflected in the niche market of BL? The argument has been made both ways. Some argue BL others the gay men it consumes, while scholars on the opposing side hail the genre as female empowerment.

Equally empowering? Is one empowering and one fetishizing?
KaKanai, Kei. An Even More Beautiful Lie. Juné Manga.
King, Michael. Sex and The City Cover Art. 2004.
King, Michael. Sex and The City Cover Art. 2004.


Equally empowering? Is one empowering and one fetishizing?

The argument for BL being a source of fetishization of the gay male experience is not without merit. BL definitely others being gay, removing from it all of the negative aspects of its reality, and exaggerating the positives to cater to its own readership. The BL readership reconstructs homosexuality for their own purposes, picking and choosing which parts of it they will accept, and discarding those they don’t.

However, defenders of the genre argue that the othering isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that gay men aren’t the only ones subjected to said othering. Female characters in BL are few and far between, and when they do show up, all positive aspects of the performance of femininity have often been stripped away, leaving a whiny, nagging shrew whose only role is to interrupt the love story playing out between the two men. The women in BL have been othered so that there is as little chance as possible of empathizing with them. These women often embody all traditional feminine ideals, the home, marriage and feminine clothing and mannerisms, so when BL texts make them into unrealistic characters, caricatured beyond any sense of kinship, authors are in a sense othering femininity itself.

“This leaves BL as too queer, as it cannot be declared unproblematically be declared heterosexist or homophobic due to the focus on love through hommoeroticism, yet not queer enough, as it cannot be unproblematically declared pro-gay or anti-homophobic due to its treatment of homosexuality as an aesthetic without social consequences.”

– Neal K. Akatsuka, excerpt from “Uttering the Absurd, Revaluing the Abject: Femininity and the Disavowal of Homosexuality in Transnational Boys’ Love Manga”

This fact performs a dual defense of the genre. On one hand, othering femininity means this genre is groundbreaking, defending women from the patriarchy. It not only others homosexual males, but also feminine females, meaning that the genre isn’t about fetishizing, it’s about the pursuance of an erotic, romantic ideal. On the other hand, no matter how much the case may be made for BL as an instrument of social change, its defenders cannot escape the fact that straight women use gay males for their own empowerment.

Fujoshi: Happy to Be Othered

Manga, a form of comic originating from Japan, has taken its place alongside its Western visual narrative counterparts as a stable sub-culture within modern media. One subgenre, that of boys’ love manga- or BL manga for short- is a one of a kind experience, existing as a tenuous dichotomy of Othering and being Othered.

Boys’ love manga, as the name might suggest, is a genre of manga which features homosexual relationships between two males, produced by straight women for straight women. The varying levels of sexually explicit content within the genre make it its own special kind of hodgepodge culture, blending romance novels and their escapist literature tendencies, pornography and its overt objectification for aesthetic and erotic pleasure for the viewer, and fandom culture and its tight-knit community that collectively receives emotional gratification and catharsis from the romantic stories they obsess over.

The community of readers for BL manga are especially self aware, calling themselves “fujoshi,” a self-deprecating term that makes a homonym of the phrase “proper girl,” turning it into “rotten girl.” The fans of the genre openly acknowledge that finding emotional fulfillment in the sex lives of fictional gay men is not part of mainstream culture, and wear the Othering phrase like a badge of pride. Their self-chosen identifier simultaneously recognizes the ostracization society imposes on them while poking fun at themselves for their immoral or indecent hobby.

BL manga and its even more overtly pornographic cousin yaoi (a play on the words yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi, “no climax, no point, no meaning”) exist as one of the most fringe of fringe subcultures. Modern society sees nerds, geeks, and fandom culture as an already unsavory collection of people too weird and Other to fit in anywhere else, but even among these outcasts, fujoshi are seen as too Other for their should-be peers.

Junko. Watashi ga Motete Dōsunda. Brain’s Base, Crunchyroll.


Junko. Watashi ga Motete Dōsunda. Brain’s Base, Crunchyroll.

Causes of Othering the Fujoshi

One reason fujoshi might experience such Othering because they are extremely forthcoming with their sexual desires. Hearing girls gush about how hot they find gay sex to be might be offputting for a society that still expects women to by and largely be sexless creatures, with no erotic desires of their own but rather behaving in a reactionary way to the men in their life.

It might also be because the straight, white men who make up the majority of American and European fandom culture feel uncomfortable at being objectified. To see girls reblogging uncensored, highly NSFW works of a homoerotic nature and commenting on the aesthetic pleasure they receive from it puts men in the uncomfortable place of objectification women have been for years. Being faced with an idealized version of their bodies being put on display in an erotic manner for the public at large gives men a taste of their own medicine they don’t want to swallow.

Stray Mei. Fujoshi.

However, while already subjected to Othering because of their warping of society’s expected sexual and gender norms, fujoshi make no effort to integrate with society. Where society is shocked and scandalized by porn and what they see as porn, these women treat it as any other romance novel or TV show, lacking the shame and secrecy given to other types of sexually explicit materials. They gleefully joke about friends they’ve “infected” or “turned to the dark side,” acknowledging that this is seen as a disease or a societal ill. By simultaneously accepting and taking ownership of these negative stereotypes, they let themselves be pushed away from society, and even cheerfully help build some of the walls between themselves and others. Fujoshi choose to allow the ostracization to happen, helping it along rather than fighting it, in what may be a one-of-a-kind situation where the Other is all right, and maybe even amused or happy, to be Othered.


AkiDearest [YouTube User]. “THE FUJOSHI,” 8:19, posted September 2, 2016.

But Just What is Queer Theory, and What is Feminism? And How Do They Work Together?

“While earlier forms of feminism centered their politics on the transhistorical, transcultural subject of ‘woman,’ queer theory prods us to question our attachment to the stable categories of men and women.”

– Kathy Rudy, excerpt from “Queer Theory and Feminism” (2000)

Flack by Donovan Cleckley

Feminist theory isn’t just about finding badass women, it’s about looking for women in literature, and in all aspects of life, as characters, creators, and critics, seeing how they’re portrayed or how they portray things, and then considering what that says about women and society as a whole. And, like the feminist lens, queer theory is not just about making everyone gay. It’s about subverting and reinterpreting all of the things which we would consider “normal.”

Over time, these two lenses have become so intertwined that most scholars don’t even say queer theory or feminism, but rather sexuality and gender studies, lumping them together under one umbrella. And while some might consider this a disservice, abridging the two in a kitschy two-for-one deal, feminism and queer theory actually benefit greatly from each other’s influence.

Where feminism would look at a text and ask what it says about the role of women, queer theory would tell the feminist to stop and consider the very idea of a “role” for a “woman,” and encourage the feminist to slant or skew their viewpoint to consider not just their function within the societal construction, but the very society itself. Feminism misses a key component without queer theory, as it comes to rely on the very system it is attempting to subvert, becoming so caught up in fighting the patriarchy that they never even think to question the patriarchy itself.

Likewise, queer theory can become so insistent on advocating for the tearing down of the system that it can forget about the roles of house and home that women have, historically, fulfilled. Feminism holds up traditionally “feminine” aspects of existence and glorifies them, revels in and celebrates them, whereas queer theory is so academically minded, it can toss those thing by the wayside.

The two theories work best in tandem, feminism fighting to defend the roles of motherhood and the traditionally sweet, soft, and feminine while simultaneously defending women who look to defy those roles, and queer theory questioning while all of these things are considered “feminine” in the first place, instead of just aspects of personhood.

While feminism advocates for those who might be perceived as “strange” or “Other” by society, attempting to widen the molds available for women, queer theory looks to make society itself into the “Other,” and the idea of molds for womanhood “strange” in and of itself. Both look to improve society and make it more equal, but do so from opposite ends of the spectrum, in a partnership that might, on the surface, even itself be considered “strange.”